Cat's Claw Set to Strike in Glens Falls
August 29, 2014 09:24am
Saratoga starting gate 2014.
Photo: NYRA

Time is money, especially in horse racing, but Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard has the good fortune of having owners that allow him to give his runners time to develop.


Cat's Claw is a perfect example, needing four starts over eight months to break her maiden in May of her 4-year-old year. Since then, the daughter of Dynaformer has started to show vastly improved form, winning a stakes race in her most recent start, and she will attempt to score in a graded stakes Sunday when she takes on eight others [with one main track only entrant] in the Grade 3, $150,000 Glens Falls at Saratoga Race Course.


The 1 3/8-mile race on the inner turf is the supporting stakes race on a card headlined by the Grade 1, $350,000 Spinaway for 2-year-old fillies.


Cat's Claw, who descends from the female line that produced Hall of Famer Sky Beauty, began to excel when stretched out in distance. After breaking her maiden at 1 ¼ miles on the grass at Belmont Park, she won a 1 ½-mile allowance the following month by 2 ½ lengths.


Encouraged, Sheppard put the filly in the $100,000 Waya at the same distance August 3 at the Spa, and, despite drawing the 11 post, she came from 14 lengths back to win by 1 ½ lengths over Glens Falls entrant Viva Rafaela.


Asked if the patience of owners Helen Alexander and Jon S. Kelly helped with Cat's Claw, Sheppard said, "Very much so, yes. Some of my owners might think I have too much patience. That is sort of my strong point, if it could be considered as such. I just won a stakes race with a mare of my own [Brilliant Match] yesterday over hurdles at 6. She didn't even break her maiden until she was 6, even on the flat. Most people would have given up on her a couple years ago."


Now, Cat's Claw heads into the Glens Fall as the 3-1 morning-line favorite, and Cornelio Velasquez, who rode her to victory in the Waya, retains the mount. If the race is taken off the turf, Lady Cohiba, a main track only entrant, will be the morning-line favorite at 8-5.


Trainer Christophe Clement will send out an uncoupled entry in Aigue Marine, the 5-2 second choice on the morning line, and Irish Mission, who is 6-1.


Aigue Marine, a daughter of Galileo, has run in six straight Grade 3 races, and she won her most recent, the Robert G. Dick Memorial on July 5 against 11 runners at Delaware Park. She took that race, run at the Glens Falls distance, after a 2 ½-month freshening following a loss by a head in the Bewitch at Keeneland in April.


"There is one race called the Sheepshead Bay [Grade 2, May 24, Belmont Park] in New York, but she was not ready for that race, so we just gave her a bit more time, and she raced very well in Delaware," Clement said. "She's been training here very well lately, and I expect her to be competitive."


Irish Mission, a 5-year-old Giant's Causeway mare, joined Clement's barn this spring after a lengthy career in Canada, and she finished third in the Sheepshead Bay and second in her past two stakes starts. She has back class, having finished second against males in the prestigious 2012 Queen's Plate in Canada, and Clement said she has trained very aggressively since moving to Saratoga.


"If she's not too rank, she should stay with no problem," he said. "She's run two miles at Belmont Park [in the Belmont Gold Cup]. She's coming the right way. She's very exciting. I'd be disappointed if we can't win a big race in the fall with her."


Chad Brown, in the mix for a meet training title, will run Watsdachances, who is coming in off a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Matchmaker at Monmouth Park, a race in which Irish Mission finished second. Watsdachances won the P.G. Johnson in August 2012 at the Spa and last year finished second in the Grade 2 Lake George and third by a neck in the Grade 2 Lake Placid.


The 4-year-old Irish-bred daughter of French sire Diamond Green, 6-1 on the morning line, has never run beyond 1 1/8 miles, but Brown said the race is worth a shot.


"We're trying a little different strategy with her," Brown said. "She's run terrific both her starts this year at the distance we've been running her at, but the way she's been closing and at a crucial part of her career - 4 [years old] turning 5 - to really figure out how we're going to campaign her moving forward, it might be a good opportunity to see if she can reinvent herself as maybe a longer-distance turf mare. It might open up a few more doors for us if it works out."


Caroline Thomas, a 4-year-old by Giant's Causeway trained by Barclay Tagg, enters the Glens Falls off the toughest heat of any runner in the field - the Grade 1 Diana on July 19 at the Spa. Coming off a 2 ¼-length allowance score, Caroline Thomas went off at 28-1 against some of the best turf fillies and mares in training and came three wide in the lane to finish seventh, beaten just 2 ½ lengths.


She won the Lake Placid last year by disqualification for her only win at Saratoga.


"She gets stuck in all the tough races," Tagg said of his 12-1 shot. "She had a win up here last year. She backed into it [by disqualification], but still, she was the best horse I think. Her mother [Bit of Whimsey] was a Grade 1 winner. This filly was beaten a neck or two heads in the [Grade 1] Queen Elizabeth [II Challenge Cup at Keeneland]. She's right on the edge of being a really good horse, but it's been tough for her."


Four-time stakes winner Baffle Me (20-1); Grade 2 Mrs. Revere Stakes winner Emotional Kitten (10-1); Viva Rafaela (5-1) and long shot Pleasant Cat (30-1) complete the field.


Source: NYRA



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